3 min read.Updated: 02 Oct 2021, 11:30 AM ISTKeith Zhai, The Wall Street Journal
Chen Qiushi, whose viral videos offered a rare view from the coronavirus epicenter, reappeared on Twitter and YouTube but offered few details of his disappearance
A Chinese citizen journalist whose viral videos offered an unfiltered early glimpse of the Covid-19 outbreak as it consumed the city of Wuhan has resurfaced more than 600 days after he went missing.
Chen Qiushi, a lawyer and self-styled citizen journalist, disappeared in February 2020 after he had spent roughly two weeks at the epicenter of what would later become a pandemic, publishing videos that were often wrenching in their portrayal of the fear and confusion that gripped the locked-down city of 11 million. Mr. Chen’s friends and family have said that they believe he was forcibly quarantined by state security officials, despite displaying no symptoms of illness.
Mr. Chen re-emerged Thursday with a short appearance on a friend’s live video feed on YouTube and a letter posted to his account on Twitter.
“Over the past year and eight months, I have experienced a lot of things. Some of it can be talked about, some of it can’t," read Mr. Chen’s letter. “I believe you understand."
Mr. Chen’s videos during the early days of the Covid-19 outbreak offered one of the few windows into what was happening in Wuhan when the public had little information about the virus. They were viewed millions of times on the popular WeChat social-media platform before his account was taken down. Later, he continued to post videos on YouTube, which is blocked in China.
He documented the unfolding disaster by interviewing people who had lost their loved ones and filming inside local hospitals. In one video, he talked to another citizen journalist who had been visited by local police.
“I’m not even scared of death. You think I’m scared of you, Communist Party?" he said in a video posted about a week before his disappearance, after revealing that local authorities had contacted him and his relatives to pressure him to return to his hometown.
Asked about Mr. Chen’s disappearance and reappearance, a police officer answering the phone at the Wuhan Municipal Public Security Bureau said he didn’t have permission to comment. Mr. Chen didn’t respond to requests seeking comment.
In March last year, U.S. Congressman Jim Banks called on the State Department to urge China to investigate the disappearance of three citizen journalists in Wuhan, including Mr. Chen. China’s then ambassador to the U.S., Cui Tiankai, said in an interview last year that he had not heard of Mr. Chen, and urged the U.S. to “respect the judiciary procedures" of China.
Li Zehua, a former state-media staffer who also reported independently from Wuhan and went missing about the same time as Mr. Chen, reappeared two months later in an online video but has since stayed out of the public eye. The whereabouts of the third missing citizen journalist, Fang Bin, remain unknown.
The work of the citizen journalists, together with public accounts by residents and doctors trapped in the city, produced a rare unscripted moment in a country where speech is typically subject to strict controls, especially at times of crisis.
After an explosion of public anger sparked by the illness and eventual death of Li Wenliang, a local doctor who had earlier been punished for warning friends about the new virus, the government moved to retake control of the story. It deployed hundreds of journalists from state media to the city, stepped up censorship online and detained Mr. Chen and others who were providing unapproved information.
In April, the Communist Party organized a celebration of the first anniversary of the lifting of Wuhan’s lockdown. State media reports at the time described the city as “rising from the ashes" and portrayed the country’s success in controlling the spread of Covid-19 as proof of the superiority of the party’s leadership.
In his video appearance Thursday, hosted by mixed martial artist Xu Xiaodong, Mr. Chen said little about his disappearance, instead extolling the physical and mental health benefits of mixed martial arts.
In his first Twitter post after his re-emergence, Mr. Chen advertised a new registered account on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, saying he planned to organize a charity martial-arts competition.
“The Douyin account is now blocked," he posted an hour later.
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